Lee Sang-hwa and Nao Kodaira
Lee Sang-hwa comforted by Nao Kodaira, with bronze medalist Karolina Erbanova in the background

The final race had completed.

The South Korean champion, Lee Sang-hwa had the weight of the world as she sought her third consecutive gold in the 500-meter speed skating sprint in front of her home fans, but just fell short to Nao Kodaira of Japan. Circling the oval in tears, Lee came upon her rival, her Japanese friend, Kodaira, who put her arm around her shoulder, and created a lasting and powerful image of sportsmanship and friendship – words not often associated with Japan-Korean relations.

Koreans may have been celebrating the unification Olympics, waving the blue-on-white flags showing a single Korea, but the Japanese government wasn’t pleased, officially protesting the use of a flag that included two tiny dots to the east of the Korean peninsula. The Japanese government call them Takeshima and believe they are a part of Japan, but they are called Dokdo in Korean and in fact controlled by South Korea.

It was the Korean’s turn to be offended when NBC analyst, Joshua Cooper Ramo, covering the opening ceremonies at the 2018 Winter Games, described Japan as “a country which occupied Korea from 1910 to 1945, but every Korean will tell you that Japan is a cultural, technological and economic example that has been so important to their own transformation.” The analyst was removed from the broadcast, but the pain remained.

That is until gold medalist Kodaira and silver medalist Lee came together.

The day after their battle on the ice, the two were huddled together near the medal awards stand, cheerfully awaiting their medals. They decided to kill time by going live on social media platform, Instagram, for twenty minutes. People then realized that Kodaira and Lee were indeed friends. In a comfortable mix of Korean, Japanese and English, the two fastest women speed skaters in the world gaily exchanged wishes from their fans, talked about food, music and how they would celebrate when the received their medals.

As you can see in the video of the Instagram feed, they are reading and translating the comments for each other. Early in the broadcast, Lee put her arm around Kodaira and said they were “tomodachi” – friends. We learned that Kodaira likes the Korean dish bulgogi, and that Lee’s birthday was only a few days later (February 25). She made a point to repeat that – “Nao, my birthday this Sunday. Presento onegai shimasu.”

Absolutely, this exchange was one of the sweetest moments of these Olympic Games.

IMG_6252
WOA President Joël Bouzou OLY (4-time Olympian), Prince Albert II of Monaco OLY (5-time Olympian), Iztok Cop OLY, Slovenia NOC Vice-President (6-time Olympian), and Lee Eun-Chul  OLY, Korea Olympians Association Vice-President (5-time Olympian)

Olympians know who other Olympians are. But the general public may really only recall the names of Olympians who are famous in their area. Over a hundred thousand Olympians around the world are relatively unknown outside of Olympic circles. And yet their experience and knowledge are rich, their lessons learned from years if not decades of intense competition can be invaluable.

We recognize Doctors with the signifier MD. We recognize academic status with the letters PhD. Now, Olympians can be recognized with the post nominal OLY. The World Olympians Association (WOA), which works closely with the International Olympic Committee, has 148 National Olympians Associations which run programs and events in their countries to ensure that the spirit of Olympism is being propagated, that financial aid is being provided for programs in need of support, as well as providing benefits for Olympians.

In addition to helping Olympians make transitions beyond sports, the WOA wants to ensure that all Olympians are recognized and continued to be recognized, not only for their participation in the Olympics, but as role models who “personify the values of excellence, teamwork and discipline. They can serve as role models to help bring communities together, across all ethnic, religious and social divides.”

At a WOA party on February 15, 2018 at Slovenia House, held for Olympians past and present near the alpine skiing events of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, WOA president, Joël Bouzo OLY, explained that all Olympians should contact WOA so that they can be officially recognized as OLY, with permission to use OLY on their business cards, CVs or any way in which they present themselves officially.

Performing in sport is something we can transfer to other sectors. We think dedicating ten or more years of your life, for competition, to achieve the best of yourself, needs to be recognized. OLY is like a PhD. Use it. Put it on your CVs. Use it when you try to find a job. There are also Olympians who are business leaders and they will be identified through OLY, and can identify Olympians through OLY and help them with their careers. You deserve it, so use it.

If you are an Olympian, go to this link to sign up.

https://olympians.org/olympians/oly/

Olympic Athletes from Russia enter the Stadium
Olympic Athletes from Russia enter the Stadium under the Olympic flag.

Wait, the Russians are here?

The casual fan of the Olympics likely heard that the Russian team was banned from the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. In actuality, the International Olympic Committee, based on reports of state-sponsored and systematic doping, decided to suspend the Russian National Olympic Committee, thus removing their eligibility to select and send their athletes to the Olympics.

Russians celebrate first OAR medal at 1500 mens short track finals
Russians celebrate first OAR medal at 1500 men’s short track finals.

However, the IOC still created a process to review individual athletes from Russia, and then make a decision to invite them if they passed “strict conditions.” As a result, while 47 coaches and athletes were banned from attending, there are actually 168 Russian athletes at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. By contrast, Russia had 179 at the 2010 Vancouver Games and 225 in Russia a the Sochi Olympics.

 

Russia Fans at Snowboading Slop style
Russia Fans at snowboarding Slope style

 

In other words, the Russian team, under the name IOC designation, “Olympic Athletes of Russia” (OAR), is in force in South Korea.

And so are their fans.

Fans donning the white, blue and red of Russia are omnipresent, visible and audible. Smiling and proud, they are happy and proud to cheer on their Russian, waving Russian flags.

Russia Fans at Pairs Figure Skating
Russian Fans at Pairs Figure Skating

The Russian athletes are also happy for the fan support, but have had to be careful, as they can’t be seen publicly with symbols that associate them to Russia. As the AP reported, former NHL #1 draft pick for the Atlanta Thrashers and star for the New Jersey Devils, Ilya Kovalchuk, has had to warn fans to put away their Russian flags if they want pictures with the star left wing for Team OAR.

Olympics: Ice Hockey-Men Team Group B - RUS-USA
Ilya Kovalchuk (71) celebrates with defenseman Vyacheslav Voinov (26) and forward Pavel Datsyuk (13) after scoring a goal. USATSI

“We won’t chase (fans) away” if they’re carrying Russian flags, Kovalchuk said Tuesday. “If there’s an IOC rule then we’ll talk to them, explain it and take a photograph without the flag.”

There is no Russia House, a venue at Olympiads where athletes, media, family and friends can gather. But according to Reuters, Russia did create a place called “Sports House” in Gangneung, near the ice hockey venues, where supporters can “celebrate the athletic success.”

So yes, the Russians are here, and their fans are happy they are.

PyeongChang Winter Olympics Newsletter KTX

I’m sitting in seat 5A of the third train in the KTX and after kilometer of kilometer of open spaces, ice-pocked rivers, massive housing blocks, we’ve entered darkness. And it’s a long darkness.

But that’s OK, because I have my handy dandy PyeongChang Winter Olympics Newsletter in the pocket in front of my seat, and it has the facts I need. The KTX is the new high-speed train line from Seoul to Gangneung, which will make it fairly easy for Koreans and visitors alike to get to the Olympic venues. And in answer to the question “Would you introduce the newly launched KTX railroad line connecting Seoul with Gangneung?” there is a nugget of trivia that I needed at the moment I read it – that part of the engineering marvel of the new KTX line is a 22-kilometer-long tunnel in Daegwallyeong. That’s the longest tunnel in Korea, and the eighth longest in the world.

This newsletter is intriguing, at least to me. There is a bit of the normal evasive mumbo jumbo that bureaucracies spin. For example, in answer to the first question – “What do the Korean people think about Korea’s hosting of the Olympics, the world’s premier sporting event?” the answer starts off with a 90 degree turn.

KTX

Let us begin with a brief introduction to the Republic of Korea. The country became a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 1996, and its economy now ranks near the global top 10. Surprisingly, however Korea was the most impoverished country in the world 70 years ago. It gained independence in 1945 but went into war in 1950……

It goes on like that for another three paragraphs without answering the question. Maybe the attitude of the Koreans towards the Olympics are like citizens in so many countries – mixed to negative.

But I suppose that answer would be a downer at the start of a newsletter promoting the pride Koreans have in showcasing the biggest Winter sports event in the world.

This four-page document is not all sugar and spice, however. In companies I’ve worked, in the face of intimidating change, corporate communications will often suggest creating a set of FAQs called “Rude FAQs.” In this case, the effort is put into thinking of the most direct questions an ordinary employee would think of (the directness of which can seem rude in the genteel world of let’s-all-get-along corporate cultures.)

So after the first nine, rather bland questions in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics newsletter come three fairly direct questions, real questions:

  • Q9. South Korea’s “Peace Olympics Initiative” led to North Korea’s participation in the PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games. Is there any concern about the possibility of the North’s exploiting the Games as a propaganda opportunity?
  • Q10. Isn’t the North trying to gain time for its nuclear armament by participating in the Games, and doesn’t its participation constitute a violation of the sanctions imposed by the international community on North Korea?
  • Q11. Aren’t some South Korean media outlets and politicians worried about North Korea’s participation in the PyeongChang Olympics?

And the answers were on the whole pretty solid. Here’s the response to the last question, #11:

Considering the fact that North Korea’s latest missile test was held just months ago, their sudden change in attitude is surprising, and indeed, voices of concern have been heard in some quarters.

The government is paying keen attention to these concerns out of the belief that they all emanate from a wish for the successful hosting of the PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games. The government is convinced that the North’s participation in the PyeongChang Olympics will contribute to the success of the Games for the following reasons:

  • First, the PyeongChang Olympics will aid the promotion of inter-Korean reconciliation as well as ease tensions and build peace on the Korean peninsula.
  • Second, there were concerns a few months ago over whether the PyeongChang Olympics could be peacefully held, but those concerns have now evaporated. Moreover, global leaders are supporting inter-Korean dialogue and the participation of North Kore in the PyeongChang Olympics.
  • Third, the North’s participation has further increased international interest I the PyeongChang Olympics, adding to its potential for success.
  • Fourth, efforts for detente on the Koran Peninsula will mitigate geopolitical risks, providing a boost to the Korean economy.
Madison Rae Margraves gives her impact statement as her parents and sister Lauren listen during the sentencing hearing for Larry Nassar, in the Eaton County Court in Charlotte
Madison Mangraves gives her impact statement as her parents and sister Lauren listen. February 2, 2018 REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

It was a sentencing hearing for former USA Gymnastics sports medicine doctor, Larry Nassar. Judge Janice Cunningham was presiding over the hearing in Eaton County Circuit Court in Charlotte, Michigan, where victims of Nassar’s abuse testified to the pain and suffering at his hands. Nasser was sentenced to 40 to 175 years for molesting 7 girls, although hundreds have said they had been molested by Nassar.

Two sisters, Lauren and Madison Mangraves, had just testified at Nasser’s sentencing hearing in Eaton County, and their father Randall Mangraves asked to speak as well.

“I can’t imagine the anger and the anxiety and the feeling of wanting retribution, and if you need to say something to help you,” said Cunningham to Randall Mangraves. “I’m more than willing to let you say something, but in a courtroom we don’t use profanity. If you have some words you’d like to say, I would like to give you the opportunity to say something.”

Mangraves then took the opportunity.

“I would ask you as part of the sentencing to grant me five minutes in a locked room with this demon. Would you do that? Yes or no.”

The young women behind the left shoulder of Randall Mangrave, were his daughters, Lauren and Madison. As their father began his request, you can see Madison react with surprise, her somber and tearful face suddenly smiling involuntarily, pleased that her father was sticking up for his daughters, perhaps thinking he was being even a bit playful when he suggested he have “even one minute” with Nassar.

But Randall Mangrave wasn’t playing. Madison’s face turned to shock as she watched his father dash across the room and lunge at Nassar. Security quickly wrestled him to the ground, Mangraves failing to get anywhere near the sexual predator. You can hear weeping in the background, presumably one of the daughters who had gone through a roller coaster of emotions, even in the previous 2 minutes.

Randall Mangraves attacks
Randall Margraves lunges at Larry Nassar in court as his sentencing continues REUTERS

After security determined he was cuffed and not going to resist, they let him get up. Before he was taken away, there was a pause as he stared at the security men in disbelief.

“What if this happened to you guys,” he said to the officers who took him away.

There was no reply.

 

If you’re following the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics on Twitter, you can’t avoid the tweets on calls to boycott the 2018 Winter Games in support of a ban on the eating of dog meat in Korea. Certainly, as 2018 just happens to be The Year of the Dog in the Asian zodiac timeframe, and the Winter Olympics are in South Korea this year, this is an opportune time to protest the consumption of dog meat.

Over the past two millenia, gaegogi, or dog meat, has been consumed in Korea, as well as China and Vietnam. Wikipedia cites an article that states 25 million dogs are eaten each year by humans. I have never tried dog meat, or cat meat for that matter, which is also consumed by humans to lesser degrees, primarily in Asia.

But I have had horse meat, a popular delicacy in Japan. It’s called basashi, served raw like sashimi, and it is delicious. But friends who had never in their life had the thought of eating horse would probably outwardly protest, or inwardly recoil upon hearing that horse was a highlight of Japanese cuisine.

basashi
Basashi, or raw horse meat, a popular dish in Japan.

There are quite a few commentaries on the internet on this topic – the idea that eating animals viewed first as pets and friends is abhorrent, while eating animals viewed first as food is not even a passing thought for most people (vegans and animal activists excluded).

Why is that? Jared Piazza, a lecturer in moral psychology from Lancaster University commented about the terrible ways dogs are slaughtered for human consumption, and the ambivalence it creates in many:

I too find myself heartbroken by these images. But as a vegan I find myself wondering why isn’t there more outrage in the world over the slaughter of other animals. For instance, each year in the US roughly 110m pigs are killed for meat. Where is the same public outcry over bacon?

The simple answer is emotional prejudice. We just don’t care enough about pigs for their needless suffering to pull at our heartstrings. As Melanie Joy, social psychologist and expert on “carnism” points out, we love dogs, yet we eat pigs, and there are simply no good moral reasons for such hypocrisy.

However this belief really just reflects the fact that people spend more time getting to know dogs than pigs. Many people have dogs as pets and through this relationship with dogs we’ve come to learn about them and care deeply for them. But are dogs really that different from other animals we eat?

Dr. Marc Bekoff wrote in Psychology Today explained that our feelings towards animals slaughtered so they can become pork chops or hamburger or chicken soup are muted since these animals are “out of sight, out of mind” for many of us.

In my essay concerning eating pigs I wrote, “When some people learn that I go to China to work with Animals Asia in their moon bear rescue program (link is external) (see also) they ask, ‘How can you go there, that’s where they eat dogs and cats?’ I simply say that I just left the United States where people routinely eat pigs, cows, chickens, and millions of other sentient beings.” Why is eating dogs different from eating cows and pigs at a barbecue or in a restaurant? For one, we don’t see the actual painful process of how pigs and cows become meals. 

In the end, is the debate about whether people eat dog or cat meat? Or is it about whether we care how we treat animals raised for human consumption? Do many of us prefer to keep such images out of sight, out of mind? (Yes, I struggle with the non-committal nature of this post’s conclusion.)

Lillehammer Norway
Lillehammer Norway

It’s 2018! So it’s Year of the Dog.

And according to the Chinese Zodiac, there are five different cycles of Dog Years. This year is the Earth Dog, which in theory, means that people born in 2018 (or 1958), are “communicative, serious, and responsible in work.”

With the coming 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, this is actually only the third time an Olympics will have been held in the Year of the Dog. Twelve years ago, the Olympics were held in Torino, Italy in 2007, and twenty-four years ago, the Winter Games were held in Lillehammer, Norway, in 1994 (Year of the Wood Dog). That was the first time the Winter Games were held in a year different from the Summer Olympics.

year of the dogOne similarity between PyeongChang and Lillehammer – both are cities of tiny populations: 27,400 in Lillehammer and 43,600 in PyeongChang. The PyeongChang Olympic Organizing Committee can only hope that the similarities don’t stop there as the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics are considered one of the best ever. Costs were not astronomic. Security wasn’t paramount. And the Olympics were welcomed by the local folk.

As ESPN writer, Jim Caple, wrote in an article called “How Lillehammer Set the Standard,” Norway put on a great show. “The 1994 Games likely were the greatest Winter Olympics ever.”

American speed skater, Dan Jansen, agreed with that sentiment:

The whole experience, not just my experience, but the whole Winter Games themselves in that specific city, were as good as they can be. Just because the people were so proud to host the Games. Winter sports are a way of life there, and it really showed in the way they put the Games on and the attitudes of the people. I don’t want to say they were better than any other, but the way a lot of those stories unfolded, it was certainly hard to compare any Games after that, with all those stories in one Olympics. Every story [every Olympics] is important, but it all just seemed to come together.

And years later, citizens of Lillehammer appear to appreciate their connection to and the impact of the 1994 Olympics. As this post in the blog, Life in Norway, posits, Norwegians enjoy the fruits of the Olympic legacy.

These days, many visitors see Lillehammer as a quiet town. I sure did when I first visited in 2012, as the town centre was almost deserted on a Saturday morning. But it didn’t take long to realise it was because the locals spend their precious leisure time in the mountains, taking advantage of the facilities very few towns of its size are blessed with. Local children zoom around the Olympic arena on sledges and skis, perhaps dreaming of their own future Olympic glory.

May 2018, the Year of the Dog, be a wonderful year for the organizers, the fans and the athletes of the PyeongChang Olympics.